- Gender and Exile: Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy
But what I see is the millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground, no excess of love which might lead to the things that an excess of love sometimes brings, and worst and most painful of all, no tongue.—Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
The above quote, taken from the Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid’s polemical work on the history and effects of the British colonial rule of her native island, thematizes what I see to be the central concerns of many Caribbean authors whose protagonists are exiles. In describing the violence of colonial conquest, Kincaid emphasizes a fundamental loss of security and belonging, using the word “orphan” to describe the colonial condition of existential rootlessness. The seizure of land, the disruption of sexual and familial relationships, the erasure of culture—all these make up the legacy of colonialism, but none matches the force of the loss of the tongue, the linguistic power to define oneself and one’s world. To lose one’s tongue is to experience a permanent exile. While Kincaid acknowledges the missing tongue as a trope of cultural alienation, she extends this trope’s signifying potential in her 1990 novel, Lucy, which traces the story of a young woman who has emigrated from Antigua to the United States. By focusing on the [End Page 164] 164tongue in her description of Lucy’s awareness of her body as a source of resistance and of sexual pleasure and by figuring the tongue as creating both connection and separation, Kincaid carves out what I would term the space of the female exile, a space that is shaped by the complex interaction between the female body and masculinist cultural imperatives. To investigate this space of female exile, I will draw on the ideas of feminist geographer Gillian Rose, who has coined the term “paradoxical space” to designate “the position of being both prisoner and exile, both within and without” (159), and demonstrate how Kincaid’s novel constructs this paradoxical space of female exile.
A sense of how exile has been perceived among male authors of the Caribbean is crucial to understanding the dimensions of female exile that Kincaid creates. J. Michael Dash notes that “the dialectical relationship between the disorientation of exile and the plenitude of belonging can be seen as a mediative exercise, a means of imaginatively negotiating the trauma of Caribbean history” (451). The authors of the critical study The Empire Writes Back see “place, displacement, and a pervasive concern with the myths of identity and authenticity [as] a feature common to all post-colonial literatures in English” (Ashcroft et al. 9). Perhaps the best known of these Anglophone writers is the Barbadian writer George Lamming, whose 1960 work The Pleasures of Exile asks the provocative question, “and what, if any, are the peculiar pleasures of exile?” (50).
Much of Lamming’s extended essay exposes the cultural dislocation experienced by the colonized, as Lamming draws on the figure of Shakespeare’s Caliban to emphasize the struggle that the colonial subject undergoes to overcome the cultural and linguistic alienation of imperial conquest. At the same time, Lamming finds an affirmative power in exile, claiming, “The pleasure and paradox of my own exile is that I belong wherever I am” (50). The Haitian writer Rene Depêstre, musing on the same topic twenty-five years later, echoes Lamming’s sense of exile’s pleasures:
I need to go beyond the view of exile that our age still shares with antiquity, the Renaissance, the Romantic age. In these three periods the notion of exile really referred to an individual torn from his native land. . . . In 1985, how does one find a new way of interpreting the historic conditions of [End Page 165] exile [?] . . . As I have been Brazilian in Sao Paulo, Czech in Prague, French in Paris, Italian in Milan, Cuban in Havana, Haitian at every human crossroads of tenderness and freedom, each succeeding self will have created my identity now that the world faces cultural interrelationship.(qtd. in Dash 456–57)